Monday, May 16, 2005

Culture Vulture/The Battle for Books.

Last December, Google inked an agreement with four of the US's top universities, plus Oxford University in England, to digitize their libraries. They have plans to make into digital data more than 12 million books and to make it available for every scholar, researcher, and plain old book maggots like me who otherwise wouldn't have the time or the wherewithal to do so.

Sounds good, right?

Google wants to make information that is customarily offline, online. Their aim on this project is simple: help maintain the preeminence of books and libraries in our increasingly Internet-centric culture by making these information resources an integral part of the online experience. Their words.

I like the idea of gaining access to literature and scholarly works without traveling 3,000 miles or paying a fortune for a copy. I've been a certified netizen (more than) ever since I left college, and I can only search for good articles or verification of information online. And while I won't be able to read through entire books from cover to cover, that's not really the purpose of Google anyway. If I'm able to widen the scope of my reading themes, I'd be glad for new information.

So how will books look like online? According to their website for the project, it depends on the books' copyright. Go here to check how it looks.

For all its good looks, though, there has been a rather heated backlash from Europe. Many countries have expressed fears over "Anglo-American domination" and its subsequent effect on the world.

Failing to digitalize - declared the heads of state in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland and Hungary in an appeal to the European Union - is to risk that "this heritage could, tomorrow, not fill its just place in the future geography of knowledge.
Jean-Noel Jeanneney - who as president of the French National Library oversees a collection of 13 million books - presented a vision of Google potentially hijacking "the thought of the world" in a book he published this week entitled, "When Google Challenges Europe."

"I think that this could lead to an imbalance to the benefit of a mainly Anglo-Saxon view of the world," Jeanneney said in a telephone interview. "I think this is a danger." (Sydney Morning Herald)
Others fear that if you're not an author with renown such as Dante Alighieri or the ever-famous William Shakespeare, you might not be found on Google. And that means you might never have existed in the first place.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald article, 23 national libraries of the 25-member European Union have all voiced their approval of a European search engine. But none of them have signed on yet.

As an onlooker, I'm waiting for the next move. I mean, with two titans who represent a good majority of the world's literature, surely everyone wins?